Review: Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book Five hardcover (DC Comics)

Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book Five is an odd volume, consisting as it does of the short “The Wake” storyline and Sandman series proper epilogues, and then most of writer Neil Gaiman’s subsequent Sandman projects. These are “The Last Sandman Story” from Dust Covers: The Collected Sandman Covers, Sandman: Endless Nights, and both the prose and comics versions of Sandman: Dream Hunters, all published within a decade or so after Sandman ended.

It is not so noticeable that there is a gap in real-world time between Sandman #75 and the rest, but neither is it completely opaque. There’s an uncomfortable sense of moving without fanfare from what is devoutly Sandman to what is apocrypha1 that I think specifically underserves “Wake.” I’d as soon have seen “Wake” and the other final issues shoved into Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book Four (longer and heavier as it would make that tome) and have left Book Five for what followed after. Notably the recent 30th anniversary Sandman collections included Gaiman’s Sandman: Overture, which these deluxe editions omit (maybe because Overture already has its own deluxe edition?). Had I my druthers, “Wake” would be there and Overture would be here.

But that is, so to speak, neither here nor there — we have “The Wake,” the epilogues, “Last Sandman Story,” Endless Nights, and Dream Hunter times two.

[Review contains spoilers]

Not unlike my thinking of late about Watchmen by way of Rorschach — that Watchmen is really the least of the story, the prelude, and what’s important is what came next — Sandman is in its own way just the beginning (though it’s yet to carry on much from there). We meet Dream as he escapes his imprisonment, and it’s not more than a couple years later that he dies. The parallel overarching stories of that time are both the events that lead to Dream’s death and the events that lead to young Daniel Hall becoming the new Dream, and these indeed are connected. So in some sense all of Sandman is just the prelude — Daniel Hall’s Smallville, if you will — and the closest we really get to the start of the story is “Wake” and its epilogues, the first steps Daniel takes as the Lord of Dream.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

In what feels like a swift ending overall, Gaiman only gives us tantalizing hints of Daniel in “Wake.” Take, for instance, his most pointed difference from Morpheus, that Daniel frees everyone whom Morpheus had imprisoned, a full circle moment for the Dream-figure. We know this is significant, but we’re never explicitly given to know why it is Daniel shows this marked change. His statements in a later epilogue that he has “no liking for prisons” and that it is a “virtuous act to free the imprisoned” are admirable but not explanatory. We could as much extrapolate that Daniel’s actions are a response to Morpheus' own imprisonment (doing unto others only now that Dream has been cleansed in the fire of death) as that they are a response to his mother Lyta Hall’s own entrapment, but the answer is not forthcoming.

“Wake” offers a variety of perspectives on Morpheus, some of which our own experience doesn’t necessarily bear (as funerals sometimes do). By design or by necessity, we almost never encounter Morpheus in the throes of love, only in the nasty aftermath. And so, Calliope’s rendition of Dream as a gentleman who “delighted in sharing his knowledge,” even as “the most gallant of lovers,” feels aspirational, something we’re told but not shown. Whether this is Calliope’s wishful thinking or Gaiman’s, I’m not sure. The same for Dream’s apparent gentle teasing of Mad Hettie, the same finally for the meet-cute rendition of his tryst with Thessaly.

My own predilections, I guess, but I could give or take the vaunted final issue of Sandman, tying up the Shakespeare storyline in a fit of fourth-wall breaking.2 I was more impressed by the quite unexpected return to the “Soft Places” desert, a story that wonderfully folds in on itself any number of ways, from Morpheus paying forward a favor from back in Sandman: Deluxe Edition Book Three to the singular almost-meeting of Morpheus and Dream-Daniel. Fascinatingly, what we find within is a Master Li who parallels some of Morpheus' admirable foibles — a devotion to duty that causes Li to exile himself even when other options are present. Among the themes of “everything changes,” Daniel is placed in contrast with Master Li, whose dutifulness resembles Morpheus' (and who, not unsubtly, Daniel asks to stay and advise him).

Including Endless Nights here was a foregone conclusion, in and of itself a challenging work, between Gaiman and Milo Manara’s male-gaze Desire story and Gaiman, Barron Storey, and Dave McKean’s wrenching portraits of Despair. Most tantalizing are the present-set stories of Despair and Destruction, hinting at new adventures of the Endless we’ve unfortunately not been privy to.

I did at the same time wonder if we were well served by two renditions of Dream Hunters one right after the other — I read the prose, started on the comic, and found I needed a break before reading the same thing over again. To Gaiman’s credit, the winks and nods in Hunters are exhilarating (that spark in Dream’s eye, one more time). And it was only by virtue of reading Dream Hunters twice that I felt I really got the story. Morpheus' ironic admonition that love between the mortal and the preternatural rarely ends well and the raven du jour’s question of whether Morpheus learned a lesson together foreshadow all that would follow.

And so — my goodness! — I now can’t say I’ve never read Sandman; in fact, I’ve read all of Sandman and I know all of what it entails. That rather snuck up on me. But I’m not now going to go from Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book Five all that quickly to Sandman: Overture — relatively soon, but not immediately. The lesson of a bit of specialness dampened going straight from Sandman #75 to “Last Sandman Story” is not lost on me, and I think a bit of longing will do to make the heart grow fonder.3

[Includes covers, various afterwords, promotional images, Sandman #75 script with layouts and illustrations, character sketches]

  1. Though not so apocrypha, I acknowledge, as to not be included among the deluxe set.  ↩

  2. My concern way back that I'd tire of Sandman once it became wholly concerned with Shakespeare and faeries was, not unexpectedly, both mistaken and never borne out.  ↩

  3. Written a few months ago. On to Overture now. Thanks for reading Sandman with me!  ↩


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